Dad Power: How One Man Changed Everything to Save Himself and His Family
Coby Mitchell is passionate about helping his kids be safe in our sexualized society. He is passionate because this is personal for him. Coby, like many fathers, knows what it is like to be exposed to pornography as a child. But this is one dad determined not to let his children be affected by porn like he was.
Coby shows us how a dad can change everything to save his family.
Coby was only 7 years old when a neighbor girl across the street showed him her stepdad’s porn magazine collection. He was immediately intrigued by what he saw. Once he returned home that day, he was ready to go back and see it again at the drop of a hat.
This single exposure, with no one to help him process what he had seen, was the beginning of what developed into an addiction to pornography that lasted 31 years. Coby says he developed a deep shame for his own sexuality; afraid that anyone who knew his secret would certainly reject him. As a young man he was particularly afraid of what women he dated would think.
So he kept it a secret.
Coby thought getting married would stop his addiction; but he found marriage only magnified the impact on those he loved. His wife, Ashlynn, could tell something was wrong the first week after their honeymoon. Three years after marriage, Ashlynn caught Coby looking at pornography. Not knowing how to respond, they moved forward, hoping it would go away on its own.
Instead Coby dove deeper into secrecy, which led to two emotional affairs with other women over the next 13 years, one including sexting. Coby finally sought professional help.
It took a couple of attempts before they found a therapist with special training in pornography addiction recovery before he began to heal. Through this process, Coby became a different man and their marriage recovered. Now they both dedicate themselves to helping couples and individuals heal from the effects of pornography addiction.
Learn more about Coby and Ashlynn’s work at the links below:
Podcast: The Betrayed, the Addicted, the Expert
How Coby is raising his kids to be safe and strong
I asked Coby how he and Ashlynn keep their kids safe from the effects of pornography in today’s world. Two of the keys to their success are:
- Not being afraid to talk
- Not putting off needed conversations
PYM: When did you first tell your kids about pornography?
Coby: My wife and I first read Good Pictures/Bad Pictures to our daughters when they were three and five.
PYM: I’ve heard a lot of parents say their kids are too young to have conversations about porn. They think doing so might ruin their innocence. What are your thoughts on this?
Coby: I think this spawns from a parent who is uninformed, uncomfortable, and scared. The truth is, it’s not a matter of innocence. The makers of porn will seek your kids out and they will be exposed to it whether parents like it or not. And it’s only going to get worse with time.
We have to face the reality that our kids are going to be exposed to porn. I’d rather they learn the truth about porn from me than have a friend tell them about porn. What our kids don’t know will hurt them. And sometimes that hurt can change the course of their life. As I said, my wife and I first started talking to my kids when they were only three and five.
Kids accept the message well
PYM: What was your girls’ reaction when you first read Good Pictures Bad Pictures with them?
Coby: The kids didn’t ask a lot of questions, it was, “Oh, I need to come tell you when I see it? Okay.” They were just absorbent to the message.
PYM: What kinds of things have you told them about pornography since then?
Coby: This is an ongoing conversation that unfolds as they are old enough to understand how pornography affects us. We tell them that the internet is designed to make sure kids see porn, so we have to be really careful with it. We tell them that pornography hurts your spouse if you use it. We ask them to tell us if they ever see pornography--and that they will not be in trouble for telling us.
PYM: Has exposure happened to your kids?
Coby: Yes. They are nine and eleven now. Some kid at school showed them pornography when they were younger. When that happens they come home and tell us what happened. We don’t get mad at our girls when this happens. Instead we try to put the situation in context and be supportive of them.
PYM: What about ongoing conversations. What does that look like?
Coby: For young kids, reading the book Good Pictures Bad Pictures regularly is a good idea. There is a toddler’s edition and a young kids’ version. Reading this monthly is a good practice.
Then as kids grow into puberty, they get really savvy about internet devices. So a good regular conversation with an adolescent could start by saying, “Tell me about how you’ve been exposed to porn in the last four weeks.” Having a canned question like that ready to go really helps a parent. It’s not a matter of catching them or punishing them, but to find out what they are experiencing and provide emotional support to safely guide them.
The unique power of dads teaching and protecting kids in a sexualized society
PYM: Why do you think it’s important for dads to have these conversations with their kids?
Coby: A father’s role in influencing their kids on moral issues is really critical. Kids look to dads as protectors who will keep them safe. He’s the one than can deliver a message in a way that is unique from what mom can do.
What is even better is when Dad can have a conversation about porn with Mom by his side. That kind of continuity between husband and wife is powerful. It cements the idea that what we are saying is true.
PYM: You have daughters. A lot of people think this is mainly an issue to talk to boys about. What would you say to someone who thinks that?
Coby: That might have been the case in the 70s and 80s, but because the makers of porn are seeking all children, you can bank on your girls being exposed to porn whether you like it or not. Girls can develop a dependency on porn the same as boys. Porn makers are looking for life-long clients; both boys and girls.
PYM: Do your girls know your story with porn, and do you think this is important for dads to pass on to their kids?
Coby: Yes. I told them one day when we were on the way to an event I was speaking at. Our youngest daughter, who was six at the time, asked what I was going to talk about. I looked at my wife and she nodded.
So I told my girls that I was exposed to bad pictures when I was seven, and since no one told me what to do I kept looking for more bad pictures whenever I could. I told them that eventually I could not control my urge to look at bad pictures, and in time that was almost all I thought about.
I told them I hid this from mom and that hurt her. Then I explained I went to a special therapist and now I’m better. I told my girls that I was speaking to help others who look at porn get better too.
I wanted to demonstrate for my girls how to be honest about when we see porn. I wanted them to understand that I know first hand how porn can negatively affect us.
And it didn’t faze my daughters. My six-year-old’s response was simply, “Okay.”
PYM: What is your best advice to other dads?
Coby: Kids are going to see porn whether you teach them or not. It is best if they learn the truth from us than learn about porn on the playground. It’s best to have a dialogue with kids and demonstrate they will not be in trouble for what they tell us. Then kids will come to parents when they need help.
Tips for parents
A few tips for dads, as well as moms, are:
- Have all devices charge overnight in central location, monitored by Mom and Dad
- Use screen time settings on devices to limit times of access
- Have a good filtering/monitoring system
- Have regular conversations about pornography that are really casual
The best-case scenario is when kids tell us every time they are exposed to porn. We need to be sure they understand that porn is make-believe … fantasy, not real. We don’t want kids exposed at a young age and not understanding this is fantasy, not real, not healthy, and not responsible.
A father’s opinion, spoken or not, carries a lot of weight with children. Children will naturally look to their father to gauge his reaction when things come up. When a father speaks up on the issue of pornography, children listen. Children notice when a father takes steps to protect children from pornography coming into the house. We fathers can follow Coby’s example in preparing our children to be safe in a world full of pornography.
Brain Defense: Digital Safety Curriculum - Family Edition
"Parents are desperate for concepts and language like this to help their children. They would benefit so much from this program - and I think it would spur much needed conversations between parents and children.” --Jenet Erikson, parent